NASA's Dawn spacecraft has sent home
the first images from its best-ever viewpoint around the dwarf
planet Ceres, orbiting at an altitude of around 240 miles (385 km).
The views include a chain of craters across the body's scarred
surface, and two 3D snaps, viewable through red-blue glasses.
Dawn has already taught us a huge amount about Ceres. We've seen 3D views of features on the dwarf planet's surface, color maps of its geological features, and just recently, scientists have worked to probe the mysteries of its mysterious bright spots. Now, the spacecraft is closer to the body than ever before, and has started returning some new, breathtaking imagery.
The footage, captured on December 10 at a resolution of 120 ft (35 m) per pixel, focuses on the Southern Hemisphere and includes a series of craters called the Gerber Catena, located just west of a much larger crater known as Urvara. Such troughs are common on the body, which has an average diameter of just 584 miles (940 km). While many of the grooves across the dwarf planet's surface are attributed to impacts, certain features appear to be tectonic in nature – the product of internal stresses that caused the body's crust to break.
The footage includes two 3D images of Ceres' southern hemisphere, designed to be viewed using red-blue glasses
The shots were taken by Dawn's backup
framing camera, forming part of the instrument's testing. Its twin –
the spacecraft's primary framing camera – was also tested on
December 16. Both instruments appear to be working perfectly.
With the spacecraft now in its final orbit around Ceres, its other instruments – including a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer and a gamma ray and neutron detector – have now begun to make observations. The instruments will work to identify minerals and elements on the surface of the body.
"As we take the highest-resolution data ever from Ceres, we will continue to examine our hypotheses and uncover even more surprises about this mysterious world," said principle investigator of the Dawn mission, Chris Russell.